Texas’s new voter ID law got off to a rocky start this week as early voting began for state constitutional amendments. The law was previously blocked as discriminatory by the federal courts under the Voting Rights Act in 2012, until the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the VRA in June. (The Department of Justice has filed suit against the law under Section 2 of the VRA.) Now we are seeing the disastrous ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Based on Texas’ own data, 600,000 to 800,000 registered voters don’t have the government-issued ID needed to cast a ballot, with Hispanics 46 to 120 percent more likely than whites to lack an ID. But a much larger segment of the electorate, particularly women, will be impacted by the requirement that a voter’s ID be “substantially similar” to their name on the voter registration rolls. According to a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, a third of all women have citizenship documents that do not match their current legal name.
“What I have used for voter registration and for identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote,” 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts said.
Watts has voted in every election for the last forty-nine years. The name on her driver’s license has remained the same for fifty-two years, and the address on her voter registration card or driver’s license hasn’t changed in more than two decades. So imagine her surprise when she was told by voting officials that she would have to sign a “voters affidavit” affirming she was who she said she was.
“Someone looked at that and said, ‘Well, they’re not the same,’” Watts said.
The difference? On the driver’s license, Judge Watts’s maiden name is her middle name. On her voter registration, it’s her actual middle name. That was enough under the new, more strict voter fraud law, to send up a red flag.
“This is the first time I have ever had a problem voting,” Watts said.
The disproportionate impact of the law on women voters could be a major factor in upcoming Texas elections, especially now that Wendy Davis is running for governor in 2014.
Moreover, the state is doing very little to make sure that voters who don’t have an ID can get one. As I mentioned, 600–800,000 registered voters don’t have an acceptable voter ID, but according to the Dallas Morning News “only 41 of the new cards were issued by DPS [Department of Public Safety] as of last week.”